INDIANAPOLIS — The pandemic caused the percentage of Indiana high school graduates pursuing college or other post-secondary training to fall by six percentage points, to 53%, in 2020, the state's Commission for Higher Education said.
That drop also marked an 18% decline from where it stood in 2015, the commission said in its College Readiness Report released Thursday.
"Indiana's sharp one-year college-going decline is alarming, and we have to treat it as such. We know individual lives and the state’s economy depend on and thrive with an educated society," said Chris Lowery, who became Indiana's commissioner for higher education in April.
The report shows that the previously incremental decline in the percentage of students going directly from high school to some form of college — from less than one-year certificates through four-year degrees — sped up in 2020, likely due to the impact of the pandemic. Over five years, the total decline was 12 percentage points.
The decline in the college-going rate for 2020 from the previous school year meant about 4,000 fewer high school graduates went to college than the year before, the report said. The drop was absorbed almost entirely by the state's public colleges because nearly the same number of Indiana high school grads went to private or out-of-state schools as in the previous year.
In 2015, 65% of Indiana high school graduates went to college or into other post-secondary training.
Lowery said the state "must look beyond the traditional approaches to education for both youth and adult learners."
"This demands more intentional partnerships with our higher education institutions and employers, as well as strengthened policies and programming aligned to student success," he said.
The report recommended automatically enrolling all eligible students in the 21st Century Scholars program. Currently, fewer than half of eligible students enroll in the program, despite its success at ensuring that students have access to and are prepared for college.
The report also recommended increasing funding for the Frank O'Bannon Grant, which annually helps over 30,000 Hoosiers afford college. Funding for the grant was cut significantly during the 2007-2009 Great Recession. The report called for returning grant levels to the inflation-adjusted pre-Great Recession levels of 2008-09, which would amount to a 35% increase.